Lapsed planning permissions extended! But why have 24,800 homes not been started?

A welcome announcement from MCHLG yesterday about automatically extending planning permissions that expired during lockdown:

Planning permission usually expires after three years if work has not started onsite. Sites with consent that have an expiry date between the start of lockdown and the end of this year will now see their consent extended to 1 April 2021. This will prevent work that has been temporarily disrupted by the pandemic from stopping altogether.    

The government estimates that by the end of this month alone, more than 400 residential permissions providing more than 24,000 new homes would have expired. The new measures will help these developments and more resume as the economy recovers.

This is a sensible step and will give developers time to discharge any necessary pre-commencement conditions and s106 requirements before starting on site.

Why have 24,000 news homes not been started after securing consent 3 years ago?

The data underpinning the government’s claim of “400 planning permissions delivering 24,000 homes” comes from Glenigan. Only projects of 10 units or more with detailed or reserved matters permission granted where construction has not started were counted. [as an aside – why does the government have to rely on private data? Should they not be able to access to these statistics directly from Local Planning Authorities? The reality is that planning data from LPAs and the government is often fragmented and rarely open, which can make evidence based decisions very difficult indeed.] 

It has been held in case law that very little needs to be done to commence a planning permission and ensure it lasts in perpetuity. Plus these figures exclude outline planning permissions. So, the delaying factors are either:

  1. overly restrictive pre-commencement conditions;
  2. viability; or
  3. market conditions.

The first two can be readily fixed by pragmatism between the developer and the Local Planning Authority. It is in no one’s interest for planning permissions to lapse. It creates more paperwork for all parties, causes significant financial pressure on the developer, and plays havoc with the LPA’s 5 year housing supply and housing delivery tests. So flexibility with the conditions and open book accounting should get these sites started.

If market conditions is the culprit then that is concerning. If the site has not managed to sell or be developed in the last 3 years, it is difficult to see the chances improve before April 2021…

If you have a planning permission with difficult pre-commencement conditions do please contact James Dorey (